July 17, 2004

Milbarge: Fisking "Survivor," Fisking Fisking

by Guest Contributor

Our task is to fisk. This poses a problem for me, because I am not a fisker. Well, to be honest, I experimented once, but I didn't like it. Besides, I fisked Howard Dean, and I think we all went a little crazy and did things we're ashamed of over Dean, didn't we?

So I did a little soul-searching, and I asked myself, "How did I get here? Where is that large automobile? This is not my beautiful house!" And I decided to fisk this crazy game I've gotten myself into.

It started months ago. And it sounded like a good idea: Play some blogging games and join the happy carnival for the summer! You look at the original concept and wonder where that game went.

We know what you've been thinking: "De Novo is great with four, but imagine how much more awesome it would be with five! Up to 25% more awesome, I'd bet!" We agree, and we want to revolutionize the blogosphere at the same time with the world's first (please don't tell us if we're not) elimination-style blog-contributor search and competition.
I think we're far enough along that I can let the cat out of the bag. It's been done. They have a logo and prizes and everything. Gee, I hope it's not copyrighted or trademarked. Instead of gift certificates and the like, the "winner" here at De Nockoff gets...more posts to write! It's not my quote, but this is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie!

As for the challenges we contestants could expect to face:

Each day,
Well, that went out the window pretty quickly, didn't it?
the contestants will have to fulfill a certain blog-related task -- blog about something you did yesterday; write a post using all 26 letters of the alphabet; find the most interesting newspaper article that no one's read -- or compete for immunity by earning the most comments, the most links, or the fewest unambigously negative reactions from our readers -- and one by one the ranks will thin until there's only one blogger left sitting at his desk posting to De Novo.
The only one of these that has come to fruition is the most comments challenge (more on that later). But note how well these proposed challenges fit with the unique nature of blogs. Every time you visit a blog, you want to see something new. Even if these challenges would not have led to long posts ("The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs" satisfies the alphabet task), it would have led to a lot of them. Instead of a torrent, however, you got a trickle.

I thought this sounded fun. I liked reading De Novo, and I figured it would be fun to branch out and try something new. Plus, I thought it might be a nice little boost of publicity for my regular blog. So I applied. Jeremy later told me my letter was the longest they got, so no matter how things go from here on out, at least I've won something.

Anyway, a month passed. Apparently, when they said it would be a "summer" thing, they meant post-June 21, rather than the traditional Memorial Day kickoff or the start of their summer breaks. But I'm sure I could have been more productive at work in June if I had not been hitting "refresh" every ten minutes, waiting for the green light.

Finally, the day arrived:

We promised, and now for weeks we haven't delivered. But the best things in life are worth the wait (and come in small packages, but that doesn't really apply here, unless you're reading this on a laptop). And so, today, we are pleased to provide our waiting-on-the-edge-of-your-seats audience with a competition never before seen (if it has already been seen, please don't tell us and spoil the delusion) on the Internet, anywhere.
I've already spoiled the never-before-seen delusion, so I'll just skip ahead.
TEN (or perhaps fewer, if some of them have bailed on us) brave men and women have declared themselves up to the challenge of outwitting, outposting, and outlasting the competition to become De Novo's first Survivor and get the chance at fame and fortune, or at least as much fame and fortune as we can provide by letting them post with us for the rest of the summer -- and perhaps longer, depending on how it works out.
When I saw this, it looked pretty daunting. Not just "ten," but "TEN" contestants. But notice how the cracks have already started to show. First, the De Novo-ites acknowledge not delivering, and depriving you, the reader, of a month or more of Surviving. Or Survivoring. (See? That's a missed challenge right there: Is it "Surviving" or "Survivoring"? Discuss.) Don't your lives feel a little bit less worth living, knowing how much you missed?

Then, we get the classic bait-and-switch. "Ten (or perhaps fewer, while supplies last, but we'll throw in the undercoating for free....)" But surely, you're thinking, even if they can't be sure no one will falter at the starting gate, these folks have the whole project mapped out, right? Perhaps only with Ike at D-Day had more planning gone into an enterprise of humankind, right? Alas, no:

We've developed a series of bold and unusual challenges, including the challenge of coming up with some bold and unusual challenges. They will begin tomorrow, and continue until the contestant pool has shrunk to just two. Those two will then compete in an ultimate Survivor: Blogosphere final competition that will truly determine who is the real Survivor.

What we need from you, our readership, is some help. On many of the coming days, we may ask for you to vote, either through comments or some other revolutionary hardly-before-seen method (like e-mail, or a Zoomerang poll, but we're still figuring out some last-minute details). Or we may beg you to tell your friends (in fact, the begging begins now: TELL YOUR FRIENDS!). Or, starting today, we may ask you to help us develop some bold and unusual (or just one of the two adjectives, if you prefer) challenges for our contestants. E-MAIL US your ideas for challenges. We will be forever grateful, assuming your ideas aren't really quite terrible. Pretty please.

One assumes that the occasional all-caps are a device to wake up the reader, and if you're still reading this, you probably need them, so I'll let that slide. But a theme is starting to develop: We're making this up as we go along.

After a series of introductions, we found out that of the promised ten, six remained. I can't help wondering what happened to the other four. Was there a secret, pre-Survivor contest readers weren't told about? Did (as many as) four of the six contestants have a multiple-personality disorder? Were their Q-ratings just not high enough? I think that when the DVD of this Survivor season comes out, one of the "extras" should be a discussion of the missing four. I'm sure they're reading this. They know who they are; we want to know as well, so we can congratulate them for being smart enough to bail out at the right time.

At long last, we got our first challenge. As I have previously mentioned, I found its wording a little ambiguous. I won't rehash my confusion here, mainly because I'm sure it was my fault. But it turned out not to matter, because the first challenge was a dry run -- no one was eliminated You can read those entries for yourself and bask in their adequateness. It's becoming apparent that, with nothing on the line, no one really steps up.

Note that it's only after a round of preliminary entries that we finally learn that six was it, although there was still time for new contestants. Imagine if this were a real "reality" show: A guy sits on his couch and watches whatever contests those "Survivor sadists can dream up, says, "I can do better than that!", hops on a plane to Bora Bora or wherever, and joins up. Or imagine a poker game in which you don't know how many people are playing until you've dealt the cards. Not quite the best way to run a railroad.

Then sweeps week arrives and we can finally get down to business. Elimination challenge: poetry. I have to say that I found this to be a very inventive idea, so maybe it stands to reason that none of the De Novo Four thought of it (kidding!). The topic (the Supreme Court) was broad, and so was the resulting range in quality. A few of the poems were quite good, though.

But even in the middle of a pretty good challenge, we see evidence that they really haven't thought through all the possibilities:

Your deadline: Midnight tonight. The method of elimination: Each of the 4 of us (me [Jeremy], PG, Nick, and Chris) will choose one entry to save. Those 4 contestants, and those 4 contestants alone, will move on.
As we discovered in the comments to that post, "Midnight" didn't really mean "midnight" and the one person, one vote principle was somewhat flexible. Plus, we weren't really given any standards. I wasn't looking for a poetry matrix I could plot my stanzas on, but words like "arbitrary and capricious" and "lack of an intelligible principle" come to mind. Anyway, despite a little controversy (which is only natural in such a purely subjective vote), things progressed relatively smoothly and we were left with a final four

Now it was on to the third branch of government, the Congress, and a challenge to write a post that in turn generated comments. The post with the fewest comments by 10:00 the next morning earned its author a trip home. While this seems straightforward, Matto quickly noted the East Coast time zone bias at work. But apparently we forgot about the International Date Line or something, because in a twist that readers would be talking about for literally minutes on end, this challenge was extended by 24 hours. The only explanation we were given was that the move was taken "so that everyone (and all your friends) can comment to keep your favorite blogger in the competition," although there was no hint of disenfranchisement up to this point. (However, I can think of one person who wishes these four with "one day doesn't matter" attitudes were on the Supreme Court.) In the end, the extension had little, if any effect. Wings & Vodka ran away with this one, thus establishing himself as the Smarty Jones of this horse race.

So, after a long wait to get started, and a few hiccoughs along the way, here we are. Our instructions for this task are sparse:

Fisk a well-known blogger. Be snarky but tasteful. Entries will be judged on style and persuasiveness.
If you haven't already figured out what fisking is, it's basically a line-by-line or point-by-point refutation of an author's work, pointing out questionable logic, unsupported arguments, etc.. A classic fisking tends to be snarky if not outright mocking. I'm sure you'll see some fine examples from W&V and Mike Mills.

I had a devil of a time coming up with something to fisk. Think about it: The most easily fiskable articles are emotional rants; of course a careful and measured argument will look more persuasive next to those. But to really give someone a good fisking, the fisker has to have an emotional investment too. The fisker has to get fired up enough about a bad argument that he or she is willing to take it down piece by piece. That kind of commitment is rare for me. Why spend hours poring over a post that drives me batty? In general, why go out and read something just to get mad at it? I want blogging and blog-reading to be a pleasurable experience. I do read some sites whose editorial positions I disagree with, but I don't get too agitated about it. For example, I read NRO's The Corner, but I skip over Stanley Kurtz and John Derbyshire, because they're morons, and not worth my time. Why fisk them? I won't give them the pleasure of being fisked. They can go fisk themselves, or fisk each other.

The other thing is that even when I see an article or blog post I could fisk, I don't see any need to tell everyone about all the holes I've spotted in someone's argument. Maybe I just assume that if a hillbilly like me can spot them, anyone can. But mainly that's just not the type of blogger I am.

And when it comes down to it, I guess that's what strikes me as most odd about this whole Survivor deal, and the fisking challenge in particular. I have never been clear on what exactly the De Novo folks are looking for. I sort of assumed they wanted a unique voice, something different than the four of them offered. But now I think one could be forgiven for supposing that they really want a clone. I would wager that the entrants would have been somewhat different if the contest had been advertised as it turned out to be: Half of it is poetry and fisking. If you're not a poet, and not a fisker, why would you sign up for that? Now, I think I'm a decent poet (and a better song parodist), and I think I'm capable of being a decent fisker if I care enough to do it. So I'm going to keep trying, and I'll hang around until they kick me out.

This entry is going to be judged on "style and persuasiveness." I don't know what style the mystery judge is looking for, so I just wrote this in my style. This is how I blog. As for the persuasiveness prong, my contention is simply that this whole competition could have been better organized and managed from start to finish. I hope I've convinced you of that. But I know this is the first time they've done it, and they'll do much better the next time and I hope there is a next time. I think this is a fun and interesting experiment, and I have enjoyed doing it. I hope that the De Novo crew take this in the spirit in which it's intended (gentle tongue-in-cheek fun), and know that I mean no offense. (I also hope they can fix my font size issues because I suck at the code stuff...sorry.)

My suggestion for future Blogger Survivor contests is to have a sense of what you want to get at the end, that is, what kind of blogger you're looking for. And create challenges designed to produce that person. Maybe you want a poet fisker to add to your stable. If so, I'm sure you'll find one in this bunch. But something tells me, based on all the little points I note above, that you didn't tell yourselves back in May that you wanted to invite a poet fisker to join De Novo. Regardless, I hope that you and whoever wins this thing have a happy union.

If this does turn out to be my last hurrah (and really, at this point, how could it not be?), I have truly enjoyed it. I hope that De Novo readers will follow me back to Begging the Question for more introspection, the occasional law-talking, and I promise: No fiskings.

July 17, 2004 03:53 AM | TrackBack

You would have failed the alphabet challenge: it's "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy HOUND dog," otherwise you have no 'h' :-0

Posted by: Justin at July 17, 2004 05:27 AM

We invite you into our house and this is what you do? Ridiculous.

No, I'm kidding, I think the post is brilliant.

And now, comforted by the knowledge that I can log in to the Guest Contributor account and delete this if it turns out to be a disaster, here's a reply:

1. Absolutely right that this is being made up on the fly, and that we have no idea what we're looking for in a fifth blogger. And if we did know what we were looking for, it would probably be easier to come up with contests and make this whole thing make some sense. But I still don't really know what we're looking for. Maybe someone else does. Personally, I was just looking for something that'll bring us more readers. Maybe that's a silly thing to look for, since once they get here, they need a reason to stay, and we're making that up on the fly too.

2. From TEN to (six) was not by design. We had ten replies originally. And then we waited a month. So some people probably found other reality-show-imitator weblog games to play, like "Who Wants to Marry a Fisking Poet," or "Fear (of Blogger outages) Factor," or "Dog Eat Keyboard." Those could be funnier. Feel free to suggest some funnier ones here in the comments section. I won't feel bad.

3. I don't know what "style and persuasiveness" means either, but I'm persuaded enough to reply, so I guess that's a good sign. :)

Posted by: Jeremy at July 17, 2004 08:54 AM

Justin, you have just failed the reading challenge, because there is an "h" in the word "the." :)

Thanks, Jeremy. Maybe I can hire myself out as a consultant for blogs looking for guest-bloggers. Like a blogosphere head-hunter or something.

Posted by: Milbarge at July 17, 2004 12:53 PM

Both of you have lost the alphabet/reading challenge. The original saying in Milbarge's post is missing an "S," not an "H."

The correct phrase is, "The sly brown fox jumped quickly over the lazy dog." Also acceptable would have been, "The quick brown fox jump(s) over the lazy dog." I prefer the first version, but understand those who like the second.

Willy T

Did I just lose the losing gracefully challenge?

Posted by: Willy T at July 17, 2004 03:30 PM

Go Milbarge!

Posted by: Matto Ichiban at July 17, 2004 04:39 PM

I thought it was: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy-ass dog."

But my typing teacher was an ex-con. So who knows?

Posted by: Donald at July 17, 2004 05:01 PM

The sentence in my post ended with the word "dogs," which has an "s." Trust me, they're all in there, although the second sentence you suggested ("jumps" instead of "jumped") is a letter shorter and thus preferable to some. Anyway, glad to see everyone focuses on the important points. :)

Posted by: Milbarge at July 17, 2004 05:19 PM

Go Milbarge! I take pains to avoid snarky fiskers so I hope you win this round.

Posted by: Scheherazade at July 18, 2004 05:42 PM

I just realized that I only signed up guest-bloggers through the end of July, yet I will be in Europe for the first two weeks of August. So, Milbarge, do you want to have your first client and hunt me down some guest-bloggers for August?

Posted by: Scott at July 19, 2004 07:05 PM

The verdict's in.

Posted by: Mystery Judge at July 20, 2004 06:43 PM
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